Lifeless show blends fantasy with frivolity

Preview: If you can visualize a fun, creative new sitcom, then it's probably not NBC's `Imagine That.'

January 08, 2002|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Network television's midseason of new series starts tonight with NBC's Imagine That, a sitcom about the marriage and fantasy life of a comedy writer. Let's hope what follows is better than this - lots better.

Imagine That, which stars Hank Azaria (Tuesdays With Morrie) as a Walter Mitty wannabe, is such a dull, derivative, predictable and lifeless sitcom that it made me wonder if the entire genre is exhausted. The really stupid thing about Imagine That is that it borrows shamelessly from a very bad sitcom. If you are going to steal, at least do it with a good sitcom.

Josh Miller (Azaria) works as a writer on a sketch comedy show in Los Angeles. In the pilot, his writing partner (Joshua Molina of Sports Night) is mainly preoccupied with their sexy new assistant.

Miller's boss (Katey Sagal of Married ... With Children) is a self-absorbed lunatic who is mainly preoccupied with wearing strange outfits to work. In one scene, she's a World War I pilot, in another a cowgirl. Don't try to figure it out; it plays just as pointlessly on screen as it reads on paper.

Miller's preoccupation is his marriage. Well, not exactly his marriage, as much as the lack of sex in his marriage. The pilot revolves around him and his attorney wife (Jayne Brook) going to a therapist after she finds Internet porn on his home computer.

Sound familiar? It should, since the discovery of Internet porn by the wife and the hiring of a sexy new assistant in hubby's workplace also were part of the premise for HBO's Mind of the Married Man, a sitcom about the marriage and sexual fantasies of a newspaper writer - and the sitcom that proved that even HBO can make an awful series.

Imagine That even borrows a bedroom scene from Mind of the Married Man. Miller is lying awake in bed, while his wife sleeps at his side, when his sexy new assistant appears at the foot of the bed and begins talking to him. And, then she turns, bends over and shows her thong.

The thong is apparently very important, because outside the lack of sex in Josh's marriage, the topic most discussed during the half-hour is his assistant's thong. By the way, this show airs at 8 o'clock - the start of prime time when the youngest children are likely to be watching.

Azaria is a likable enough actor, with an easygoing way of delivering a punch line, and the ability to convey self-effacement. But it's hard to imagine his talents being anywhere near large enough to compensate for all that's wrong with Imagine That.

The series premieres on WBAL (Channel 11).

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